This Must Be the Place

Image: Courtesy of The Weinstein Company

“It must be the most energetic film ever made about a chronically fatigued protagonist.” — Jonathan Romney, Sight & Sound 

Year: 2011
Country: France, Ireland, Italy
Running time: 118 mins
Censor Rating: M - offensive language, sexual references
Genres: Drama, Road Movie

Producers: Nicola Giuliano, Francesca Cima, Andrea Occhipinti
Screenplay: Paolo Sorrentino, Umberto Contarello
Photography: Luca Bigazzi
Editor: Cristiano Travaglioli
Production designer: Stefania Cella
Costume designer: Karen Patch
Music: David Byrne, Will Oldham

With: Sean Penn (Cheyenne), Frances McDormand (Jane), Judd Hirsch (Mordecai Midler), Eve Hewson (Mary), Kerry Condon (Rachel), Harry Dean Stanton (Robert Plath), Joyce Van Patten (Dorothy Shore), David Byrne (himself), Olwen Fouéré (Mary’s mother), Shea Whigham (Ernie Ray)

Festivals: Cannes (In Competition), London 2011; Sundance 2012

Sean Penn is Cheyenne, a retired glam rocker (think Edward Scissorhands, Ozzy Osbourne) who has washed up in Ireland. Married to a tai-chi-practising firefighter (Frances McDormand), the impending death of his father catalyses a bizarre American road trip in search of a Nazi war criminal. If you can suspend all disbelief, there’s an understated profundity to be found in this quietly genre-defying pic. Rising star Paolo Sorrentino (The Consequences of Love) directs his first film in English, which lends a peculiar, slightly surreal air to his affectionate version of Americana. At times you feel you’re watching a cult comedy, at others a mainstream drama; to its credit the film refuses to confirm itself as either. The laconic pace and sparse dialogue recall David Lynch’s The Straight Story and Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers, while some sequences have the whimsical deadpan feel of Wes Anderson.

Penn’s effeminate performance as the white-faced, shock-haired Cheyenne is the strangest of his career to date. His voice is thin and reedy, with energy swinging from near catatonic to manic rigidity. Beneath the eccentricities lies a subtle emotional journey, which Penn traverses with great delicacy and judgment.

The plot is drawn with liberal poetic licence, relying on a string of delightfully far-fetched coincidences which lead Cheyenne to the man who humiliated his father at Auschwitz. A radiant cameo by David Byrne sits at the centre of the film, anchoring the themes of dislocation and yearning for home. Sorrentino’s consciously off-beat storytelling presents an oddly affecting take on humanity, with a wry and poignant humour throughout. — JR

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